Paper or plastic? As more Bay Area cities enact plastic bag bans, it’s still a choice that Milpitas residents can make—at least for now.
More than two years after an effort was launched to ban single-use plastic bags, the Milpitas City Council has yet to vote on an ordinance. A city committee, the Recycling and Source Reduction Advisory Commission, voted last July 26 to recommend a ban similar to the one that went into effect in San Jose on Jan. 1, 2012.
On Oct. 4, the City Council voted to instruct City staff to draft an ordinance for consideration. Since then, staff members have been gathering input from citizens and business leaders, but have held off on drafting the law.
Reportedly, the City is awaiting the resolution of over its bag ban. That ban includes a bag fee, which opponents call an illegal tax under Proposition 26.
Several local groups are working behind the scenes to get the Milpitas ban passed, including a local Sierra Club group, the Milpitas Cool Cities Team.
One of MCCT’s organizers, Kristal Caidoy, thinks that it’s vital to move the ban forward.
“It is important to ban single-use plastic bags in Milpitas because it affects the sea creatures, animals, birds, roads, trails, creeks, rivers, and freeways across the Bay Area,” said Caidoy. “The ban can enable or motivate people to reduce the pollution caused by the single-use plastic bags.”
Not everyone agrees. Stephen Joseph, an attorney and activist who successfully campaigned for a trans-fat ban in California, is leading the charge against banning plastic bags, which includes the website Savetheplasticbag.com.
The site quotes a 2008 report that claims San Francisco’s ban, enacted in 2007, is a failure.
“If reducing environmental impact is the objective of the ordinance, results to date do not indicate it will be successful," Joseph says. "First, little use of reusable bags was observed. Second, the replacement of plastic by paper and the return to double-bagging (of paper bags) may actually increase environmental impact, as many peer-reviewed lifecycle studies indicate that paper bags use more energy, produce more waste, and generate more greenhouse gas emissions than do plastic bags.”
What’s in the Proposed Milpitas Ban
The Recycling and Source Reduction Advisory Commission has recommended that a Milpitas ban include the following:
- Single-use carryout bag material: ban includes all plastic film and paper.
- Bag types: ban only applies to point-of-sale plastic bags. Excludes other bags except recycled-content paper bags provided for a fee.
- Fees: paper bag fee remains at 10¢ without future escalation. The fees remain with the merchant.
- Businesses: restrictions should exclude restaurants and non-profit reuse stores.
- Exemption: ban should permanently exempt government-assisted individuals.
- Penalties: current penalties identified in the Milpitas Municipal Code Section I-1-4.09.
Save the Plastic Bag has filed numerous lawsuits in an effort to halt bans in California. The lawsuits often demand that a full Environmental Impact Report be conducted under California Environmental Quality Act standards. On July 14, 2011, the California Supreme Court sided with Save the Plastic Bag in a case involving Manhattan Beach.
No lawsuits have been filed against Milpitas.
Meanwhile, MCCT continues its efforts to force through a ban. According to Caidoy, the Milpitas Cool Cities Team will be focusing on "contacting the City attorney on the plastic bag ban, engaging the public and spreading awareness on the issue.”
Caidoy recommends reading a document on bag bans from the Food Marketing Institute. The document cites statistics on how paper bags impact the environment, notes efforts to ban plastic bags both in the U.S. and around the world, and provides additional resources on both sides of the issue.
If you are interested in helping MCCT advocate for a ban, the group meets on the second Wednesday of each month. The group tackles a wide range of environmental initiatives that impact Milpitas. For more information, contact Rob Means at 408-262-0420.
If you are interested in opposing a ban, contact Save the Plastic Bag through the website.